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By Yuliya Talmazan

When Russian ships attacked and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in November, the incident unleashed a flurry of international condemnation, but spurred little real-world support for the would-be NATO and E.U. member.

More than a month later, 24 Ukrainian sailors are still in Russian custody, and tensions between the neighbors remain high.



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‘RUSSIAN COLLUSION!’ Nigel Farage calls out Remainer petition signed by MOSCOW residents

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NIGEL Farage has called for an enquiry into a petition to revoke Article 50 which has been signed by more than one million Remainers – including Luvvies Hugh Grant and Annie Lennox – because signatures from North Korea, Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea have found their way onto the campaign.

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Trump signs order withholding money from colleges that don’t promise to protect free speech

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that would withhold federal research and education funds from colleges if they don’t certify that they will protect free-speech rights on campus.

“We’re here to take historic actions to defend American students and American values,” Trump said at the White House. “They’ve been under siege.”

Colleges and universities spend as much as $40 billion in federal research and development dollars annually, according to the National Science Foundation, a total which doesn’t include higher education grants that would also be subject to the executive order. A senior administration official said federal financial aid for tuition would not be affected by the action.

Trump took a similar approach to try to cut off Justice Department grants to so-called sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. But that executive order has been ruled unconstitutional by multiple federal courts.

The idea that universities are cracking down on conservative thought and speech has become a cause celebre on the political right, and one that Trump has taken up as a major political issue as he heads into his re-election campaign.

In recent weeks, he has focused attention to an altercation on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, in which an organizer for the conservative group Turning Point USA was punched while “tabling” — or providing information — to students on campus. Neither the student who was punched nor the person charged in the incident, who pleaded not guilty, are students at the school.

The university has called the discussion around the incident “willfully distorted and inaccurate.”

Trump talked about the incident Thursday.

“You see people being punched hard in the face, but he didn’t go down,” the president said. “I said, ‘you have a better chin than Muhammad Ali.'”

In his remarks, Trump made little distinction between universities.

“Taxpayer dollars should not subsidize anti-First Amendment institutions, and that’s exactly what they are: anti-First Amendment,” he said. “Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech, not silence free speech.”

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Several 2020 Democrats to skip AIPAC conference after call to boycott

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By Adam Edelman, Ludwig Hurtado and Melissa Holzberg

Several Democratic presidential candidates will skip the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference this year after a prominent progressive group called on them to boycott the event.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will all ditch the conference, the Associated Press reported, and a spokesman for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, told NBC News that he also will not attend.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will not be going, The Jewish Week reported, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro also won’t show, according to HuffPost.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is considering running for president as an independent, will also skip the conference, the Associated Press reported.

Josh Orton, a policy director for Sanders, told NBC News that the senator is “concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution.”

Sanders didn’t attend the 2016 conference while he was running in the Democratic presidential primary, but addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at length during a speech around the time of the event.

The candidates’ decisions to skip the prominent pro-Israel lobbying group’s conference come one day after liberal group MoveOn.org called on all 2020 presidential candidates to steer clear of the event.

“It’s no secret that that AIPAC has worked to hinder diplomatic efforts like the Iran deal, is undermining Palestinian self-determination, and inviting figures actively involved in human rights violations to its stage,” Iram Ali, campaign director for MoveOn’s political action committee, said in a post on the group’s website. “We asked our members what they think so that we can make more informed decisions — and over 74% agreed that progressive presidential candidates should skip the AIPAC conference. This should also give a clear insight to 2020 candidates on where their base stands instead of prioritizing lobbying groups and policy people who rarely step outside of D.C.”

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Whittmann said the “focus for the conference has always been Congress.”

“We are proud that the bipartisan leadership of the House and the Senate will be speaking,” Whittmann told NBC News.

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at an event in Las Vegas on Feb. 17, 2019.John Locher / AP file

Headliners at this year’s conference, which will kick off Sunday, include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a number of prominent Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

AIPAC has been at the center of headlines about the Democratic Party in recent weeks, after Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted several controversial claims about Israel, including the claim that AIPAC was paying politicians to support Israel.

She was accused by some lawmakers and prominent Jewish groups of anti-Semitism and playing on toxic anti-Jewish stereotypes.

AIPAC, a nonprofit that does not donate directly to candidates but works to promote a staunchly pro-Israel message in Washington, responded to Omar, tweeting that it is “proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.”

Omar later apologized after her comments were denounced by House Democratic leaders as “anti-Semitic tropes.”

Garrett Haake and Associated Press contributed.



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